Michiganians may show up at the polls Tuesday in their lowest numbers since 1990 or worse, but voters are reminded they can’t split their tickets between Democratic and Republican primary races.
Election officials and political campaign strategists are bracing for potentially low voter participation given the lack of competitive statewide primaries and a weather forecast calling for thunderstorms throughout the morning and afternoon for much of southern Michigan.
For the first time, there is no contested primary for governor or U.S. Senate at the top of the ticket to drive voter turnout. But voters will decide the fate of partisan primary candidates from Congress to county positions and whether to reduce property taxes statewide for manufacturers and small businesses.
As of Monday, about 380,000 of the 486,000 absentee ballots distributed to voters who requested them had been returned, said Matt Marsden, public affairs director for RevSix Data Systems, a Pontiac-based campaign data-gathering business.
That could leave up to 20 percent of absentee ballots that don’t get returned by the time the polls close Tuesday, an unusually high number given the time and effort voters must spend to get a ballot by mail, Marsden said.
“Is it apathy? Is it the top of the ticket not having a primary? All of those things could contribute,” Marsden said. “It also could be somebody requested it, forget about it and headed out of town and up north with their family.”
Barring an unforeseen influx of absentee ballots, about 650,000 voters would need to vote at the polls Tuesday to avoid breaking the modern low voter turnout record for a mid-term election year of 1,032,939 in the 1990 primary, Marsden said.
Campaigns of congressional and legislative candidates often deploy volunteers to call and knock on the doors of absentee voters who haven’t returned their ballots yet, even on Election Day.
Doug Roberts, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, said voter disinterest in crucial primaries is a symptom of divided politics from the halls of Congress to statehouses.
“We work so hard as a nation to protect democracy around the world, and then lo and behold people don’t take advantage of it and we have it,” said Roberts, a former state treasurer. “I just think it’s sad.”
Across Metro Detroit, five congressional primaries in the 8th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th districts are at the top of the primary ballot because there are no contested party nominations for U.S. Senate or the governor’s office.
U.S. Reps. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Milford, and John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, face aggressive challengers. The other three races involve open seats where U.S. Reps. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Mike Rogers, R-Howell, decided to retire or where U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, opted to run for the open U.S. Senate seat when Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, decided to retire.
Statewide, though, voters are being asked to decide whether to adopt the Legislature’s proposal to gradually phase out the personal property tax levied on the value of equipment owned by most manufacturers and small businesses.
The Proposal 1 ballot question asks voters to approve the tax cut and a shift of about $500 million in other taxes and fees to replace the revenue local governments will lose from the tax break for businesses.
In Wayne County, embattled Executive Robert Ficano’s future hangs in the balance as voters have an array of choices in an 11-candidate Democratic primary.
The Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation is asking voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties to boost its property tax operating millage from 0.59 mills to 1 mill so the agency can buy new buses and balance its budget.
Because it’s a partisan primary, voters must chose either the Democratic and Republican primary to vote in and cannot split their ticket in partisan races.
Optical voting machines will not accept ballots in which voters mark candidates in both parties, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
“The voter can get a fresh ballot, but that adds to the time involved,” Woodhams said.
In some pockets of the state with fiercely competitive races for Congress or the state Legislature, Tuesday will likely bring relief to voters whose mailboxes have been stuffed with campaign literature and whose phone lines have been ringing with recorded robocalls from candidates and political groups.
Holland state Rep. Joe Haveman, a Republican who is term-limited and not on the ballot, said the mud-slinging in a GOP primary in his west Michigan district has been especially nasty.
“We just eat out our own,” Haveman said of primaries. “You just want to go take a shower when these things are done. They’re terrible.”